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Pre-2008 Posts

What Happens When Women Attempt to Run Their Own Strip Clubs

SF Lusty Lady Workers

SF Lusty Lady Workers

Ms Jared over at Sinister Girl linked to an article about the Lusty Lady strip club in San Francisco.   It is a morbidly, disgustingly, fascinating story.

The Lusty Lady’s claim to fame and respect has always been that it was “woman-owned.”  There is a Lusty Lady in Seattle which has been around for decades; there is also one in San Francisco.  According to articles written about the place over the years, at the Lusty Lady, women are treated differently than they are treated in in male-run, male-owned strip clubs, they are protected in certain ways, and so on.

Even though working conditions were better for Lusty Lady dancers than elsewhere, there were still problems (i.e., the problem of customers filming dancers through one-way mirrors and, for example, selling their images on the internet, or just posting them to the internet, things like this), and so in the ’90s, the dancers took their issues to the streets and demanded the right to unionize.  They were successful and became the first unionized strip club in the country.

Three years ago, the San Francisco club became a collective, meaning all employees, including all of the dancers who worked there, were also owners; the old management sold the club to the employees.    Collective members’ wages were based on the amount of money the club brought in.   Recently some of the collective members — in general, men who work the front desk, the door, and who clean up after patrons — have decided the club isn’t making enough money and isn’t drawing enough customers.  One of these men, Davide Cerri, sent an e-mail to the club’s Board of Directors complaining that the reason revenues were down was that the club was hiring too many fat dancers, what he described as “unwatchable girls.”  In his e-mail, he wrote:  “People comes [sic] asking for refunds, because they do not want to see girls that they would not want to have sex with even if they were completely drunk.  This is reality, not question of options. We sell fantasies, not nightmares.”

When one of the dancers read the e-mail, she was so enraged she posted it on the mirror in the dressing room so it could be read by all the dancers.   In the intense conflict which followed, there were calls for firing fat dancers and calls for firing Cerri.  The dancer who posted the e-mail filed a grievance with the union and Cerri filed his own grievance claiming, basically, that he was being discriminated against because he was a man and that men and women in the club were being treated differently and accusing the dancer who posted his e-mail of creating a “hostile work environment” for him.  Ultimately the dancer was fired.

The union ruled that because Cerri was in a position to determine and effect policy at Lusty Lady, he was a managerial employee and so the union could not represent him.   Meanwhile the union continues to press the dancer’s grievance on the basis that she was wrongly terminated.

Now the male employees are claiming that if Cerri is a managerial employee, all of the employees are managerial, given that the Lusty Lady is a collective and is owned by all employees, and an attempt is underway on the part of male employees to decertify the union.

The Lusty Lady has touted itself as a feminist strip club always, going back to the ’70s.  The dancers there have believed themselves to be feminists.   For this reason, it has been unique among strip clubs in its practice of rejecting traditional beauty standards and opposing all discrimination including size discrimination.   It isn’t true that the club is doing poorly revenue-wise.  The Guardian reported that the Lusty Lady made an average of $28,000 a week in January, $27,000 in February, $28,000 in April, $26,000 in June, and $27,000 in July of 2006.

The problem is that strip clubs are about men buying the opportunity to objectify and fetishize the kind of  female bodies men have decided are worthy of being objectified and fetishized.    On a deeper level, they are about regulating and selling the bodies of women in the interests of perpetuating a system in which women’s bodies are viewed as the property of men and hence, saleable.  That being so, the term “feminist strip club” can only, in the end, prove to be an oxymoron.

What an incredible Exhibit A of male dominance and sexist behavior, every aspect of this story, from running out fat dancers, to filing bogus discrimination grievances, to decertifying the union, to bowing and scraping at the altar of the profit motive, to blowing off dancers’ feminist concerns as not worthy of consideration.   At the very least, every one of the men involved ought to be fired.  If that means the Lucky Lady goes under, well, I think that might be a very good thing.





10 thoughts on “What Happens When Women Attempt to Run Their Own Strip Clubs

  1. oh heart, you have such a way with words. i’m all “fuck this!” “i hate that!” and you’re so much better at getting the point across.

    maybe i need to start doing some breathing exercises before i sit down and start typing. i’ve just been so hurt and angry and full of hostility lately. it’s so difficult to not fly off the handle 24/7. (as evidented by my blog posts lately.)

    anyway, thank you for expanding on the details and meaning behind this story. i do appreciate your eloquence.
    xoxo, jared

    Posted by ms. jared | October 3, 2006, 10:20 pm
  2. It worked, it was a strip club by women, and for women (as a women who enjoys the sight of women I would much appreciate this option), owned by women…until it was owned by men.

    Maybe they could try again, all women ownership? Hey, it’s women dancing up there.

    – MG

    Posted by MG | October 3, 2006, 10:32 pm
  3. No objectification, no deal. And no porny bodies no deal. Real women? Feh!

    Posted by Pony | October 4, 2006, 1:35 pm
  4. I was about to post a rant about my personal opinion of strip clubs. But MG’s post makes a good point. The boy at LL was so worried about catering to boys, he completely missed out on an opportunity to attract the Lesbian community – that is, unless the Lesbian community is as plagued by anti-fat bias as “mainstream” society.

    I wonder what made them hire a boy in the first place? They should have known boys can’t play nice with others – they have to dominate.

    Posted by Lya Kahlo | October 4, 2006, 3:51 pm
  5. The point MG’s post makes is that women can objectify other women and exploit patriarchal power differentials the same way men can. Women who “enjoy the sight of other women” and patronize strip clubs in order to procure their “enjoyment” are as much a part of the problem as men are.

    I’m with Heart here. Nothing feminist about a strip club.

    Posted by Sassafras | October 4, 2006, 7:20 pm
  6. Talk about “fun feminists”. 😦 It defies my imagination to come up with a scenario in which people somehow could make strip clubs into anything less than the vacuous, degrading meat markets they were created to be. Maybe it’s possible, but ugh. Feminist pimp, feminist porn star, feminist strip club, abolitionist slave-owner? 😦

    Posted by John | October 4, 2006, 8:44 pm
  7. I’ve been thinking about this. I am opposed to the whole concept of strip clubs in the same way I’m opposed to pornography, prostitution, etc; the commodification, the buying and selling, of women’s bodies is at the center of male heterosupremacy where womens’ bodies exist for the service of and pleasure of men. Having said that, there are a billion and one reasons women prostitute themselves, most of them having to do with poverty and having no other way to survive. I think there are only very very few women who work in these establishments or otherwise prostitute themselves because they want to. I think they can’t figure out any other way to make it and they convince themselves things could be worse and make the best of what they have to do. It’s for the sake of these latter women who have no meaningful options or choices that I can’t stand feminist defenses of stripping, prostitution, etc. as “liberating” and empowering. That’s all predatory, misogynist men need to justify objectifying and exploiting women all the way through sex trafficking.
    Even if woman-only, lesbian strip clubs were empowering or liberating (I don’t think they are), they wouldn’t work, because men wouldn’t stand for them. Men would force their way in in various and sundry ways, would cry “discrimination,” would file lawsuits against the place, and would target, harrass, and possibly harm women running them. Men would be dangerous to a woman-only strip club. If you want to see men at their absolute, ultimate worst, just attempt to create and defend woman-only space. Just try it.
    Woman-run strip clubs which catered to men wouldn’t work because they couldn’t be made to be safe for the women who ran them. The women employees would be outnumbered by the male patrons. Without men to protect the women, the women would not be safe unless they basically armed themselves with guns and had women standing guard and maybe not even then. Additionally, one of the chief functions of the male employees was to clean up the stalls in which the men at the Lusty Lady watch the dancers. I don’t think this is anything any woman should do — ever. There’s not enough money in the world to compensate a woman for this kind of humiliation and degradation. I think the Lusty Lady women were right on to have men in charge of this particular job. I read a series of articles a while back in the Seattle paper by a woman reporter who went to the Lusty Lady in Seattle just to see what it was about, write about it. She said although efforts were clearly made to keep the place clean, the booths fairly reeked of semen. Does anybody envision that there is anything remotely or possibly feminist about cleaning up after men in this way? Does anybody appreciate how restrained I am being right now? :/
    Bottom line, I think that if women attempted a woman-only strip club, whether for men or women, they would get hurt, because men would hurt them.
    There are many reasons I would have to oppose lesbian strip clubs. I just think, we cannot build a new world the same way the old one was built, with some functioning as the objectified and some the objectifiers, some purchasing the sexual services of others and some being purchased– even if it is all women we’re talking about. This is antithetical to the revolution I envision in which the value of human beings would not depend on how fuckable they are or are not, or how able to purchase the services of those who are fuckable.
    In answer to I think Lya’s question, although herstorically in the lesbian community, there has been tremendous appreciation for all the ways women can be beautiful, in recent years things have changed and not for the good. There is a lot of pressure among lesbians these days to declare themselves, gender-wise, even pressure on nonconforming lesbian women to “transition” and to identify as some version of men, and as part of that, to behave in traditionally male ways, including objectifying more traditional women, paying for their sexual services, valuing women for their looks, etc. Nonconforming lesbians who are proud to be women are made invisible in this way, pressured to identify on the male end of the gender binary, with the result that the lesbian community has increasingly become gendered in a way it was not in the past. This is a huge loss, for lesbian women, for feminism. It is a huge step backwards. Which is what radical feminists keep trying to say. The way through the problems of enforced gender roles, gender stereotypes, is not conforming with some new version of the old roles, at least as we see things. The way through is rejecting gender, resisting it, living as the women we are, refusing to declare ourselves in any way other than as women, those people whom the doctor called girls when we were born, who have had the experience of living with that declaration all of our lives.
    It’s interesting though– one proposal the strippers at the Lusty Lady had that the male employees were really peeved about was a proposal to replace the existing board with members of the local GLBT organization. I keep wondering about all the stories beneath the stories that have been published so far.

    Posted by womensspace | October 5, 2006, 5:15 am
  8. “The point MG’s post makes is that women can objectify other women and exploit patriarchal power differentials the same way men can. Women who “enjoy the sight of other women” and patronize strip clubs in order to procure their “enjoyment” are as much a part of the problem as men are.

    I’m with Heart here. Nothing feminist about a strip club. ”

    I completely agree. I was just surprised at avnew angle I hadn’t considered before.

    Posted by Lya Kahlo | October 5, 2006, 11:32 am


  1. Pingback: » Blog Archive » What Happens When Women Attempt to Run Their Own Strip Clubs - October 5, 2006

  2. Pingback: Lesbian strip clubs: a feminist dream or a degrading nightmare? 10.04.13 » - August 16, 2013

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